Last week, sister site Inside Facebook posted an article about the number of businesses that are still running illegal contests on Facebook. The writer pointed out that a shocking number of page owners don’t know the most basic rule: You can’t post a message on your wall and call it a contest. Nor can you make liking your page an automatic entry to a contest. You can, however, require that people who want to enter your contest like your page or check in at your business in order to gain access to your contest application.
If you make the mistakes pointed out in last week’s piece, or any one of the following four, there’s a good chance your contest will catch the attention of Facebook’s monitors and be shut down. To save yourself a headache, take the advice that follows each mistake and your contest will be good to go:
Mistake No. 1: Ignoring Facebook’s guidelines.
Plenty of contests get shut down because whoever is hosting them doesn’t pay attention to Facebook’s guidelines. They model their contests on what one of their favorite brands or local retailers has done. For example, they see a contest that says, “Write a caption for this photo. The funniest entry will will win ______________” and they decide to do the same thing. On the face of it, this seems like a simple contest, but if you host a contest like this and Facebook’s automated systems detect it, your page could be banned or deleted. And if users report the contest or post as spam, or that it’s in violation of Facebook rules, you also risk being shut down.
Part of the challenge for page owners is that Facebook doesn’t tell its users anywhere, “If you want to run a contest, you must read our guidelines first.” Instead, it relies on application developers, and the agencies that work with brands, to design apps that meet the guidelines. But if you’re a small business owner and you don’t work with a developer or agency, you will save yourself a huge headache if you read and follow the guidelines (once you link, scroll down; promotion guidelines are in Section III E).
Mistake No. 2: Offering a prize that users think is too good to be true.
Let’s say you’re a restaurant with 1,000 likes and your customers interact with you on Facebook because they love getting recipes and hearing about special events that are happening at your restaurant. Then one day you decide to host a contest in which the prize is an iPad. As the page gets shared, some people might assume it’s spam and choose to “hide” it or “mark it as spam.” Every time this happens, your app gets negative feedback, and Facebook’s automated systems will disable the app if it crosses a certain threshold. By the way, you can monitor negative feedback by viewing app insights in the Facebook developer app area of Facebook’s platform. You’re much better off giving away something that is related to your business. If you’re a bakery, give away cupcakes. If you’re a spa, give away a facial. If you’re a car dealer, give away an oil change, etc.
Mistake No. 3: Breaking local, state, national, or international laws.
In some states or regions, prizes that are worth a certain dollar amount (which varies by region or state) may have to be bonded, meaning that the contest host must take out a sort of insurance policy to guarantee that the prize actually exists. This is a consumer protection law. Also under this “legal” umbrella, make sure you know the difference between a “sweepstakes” and a “lotto.” Why? Lottos are illegal. A lotto is defined as selling an entry to a contest. You can’t tell users that for every dollar they spend, they get additional entries (but you can give them additional entries for other nonmonetary actions, such as inviting friends to the contest). You cannot add a PayPal button to your page and let your users purchase additional votes. If you’re not sure about how to deal with this in your rules, a good start is to check out the legal verbiage that a big brand uses with contests. Don’t cut and paste their language — just use it as a guide and look at the types of protections they put in place. If possible, have an attorney review your rules. It will be money well spent.
Mistake No. 4: Notifying the winner in a status update.
Last week’s article touched on this topic, but didn’t include the detail that you cannot notify winners that they have won only via status update. After you have notified them via a non-Facebook method such as email, snail mail, telephone, etc., then you’re free to announce the contest winner publicly on Facebook. One of the reasons that Facebook has this notification requirement in place is that without it, contests could quickly become “You Won, Click Here!” spam or even scams. By forcing notification outside of Facebook, there is less potential for scams. In order to collect non-Facebook contact data from entrants, you must use a third-party app. There are lots of third-party apps that are free or very low-cost, so don’t let this deter you from hosting a Facebook contest.
Jim Belosic is CEO of ShortStack, a self-service custom app design tool used to create apps for Facebook pages, websites, and mobile Web browsing. ShortStack provides the tools for small businesses, graphic designers, agencies, and corporations to create apps with contests and forms, fan gates, product lines, and more.